2016-11-18 20:39:10
Zika Is No Longer Global Emergency, W.H.O. Says

The World Health Organization declared an end to its global health emergency over the spread of the Zika virus on Friday, prompting dismay from some public health experts still wrestling with the epidemic.

An agency advisory committee said it ended the emergency — formally known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — because Zika is now shown to be another dangerous mosquito-borne disease like malaria or yellow fever, and should be treated, like them, as an ongoing problem, not an exceptional situation.

The experts who recommended ending the emergency were at pains to explain that they did not consider the current Zika crisis over.

“We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” said Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the W.H.O.’s emergencies program. “We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the W.H.O. response is here to stay.”

Like other mosquito-borne diseases, Zika is seasonal and can be expected to return, Dr. Salama added, and countries now need to consider it an endemic disease and respond accordingly, with help from the W.H.O.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding many efforts to find a vaccine against Zika, suggested that it was premature for the W.H.O. to lift the state of emergency, since summer is just beginning in the southern hemisphere.

“Are we going to see a resurgence in Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere?” he asked. “If they pull back on the emergency, they’d better be able to reinstate it. Why not wait a couple of months to see what happens?”

His agency will not slow down its efforts, he said. “The decisions we make about developing a vaccine or not are unrelated to what the W.H.O. says,” he said.

Since the W.H.O. first declared a state of emergency on Feb. 1, the Zika virus has spread to almost every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada. Thousands of babies have suffered deformities as a result of the infection.

Recent outbreaks and related birth defects have also been detected in Southeast Asia, although scientists believe the virus has circulated there for decades.

The most severe deformity is microcephaly, a tiny head with a severely underdeveloped brain; but fetuses have been killed by the virus, and others have been born blind, deaf, with severely clubbed feet and with permanent limb rigidity.

Scientists also fear that many babies who seem normal but whose mothers were infected may suffer intellectual deficits throughout their lives.